I must admit that I am not a fan of GLEE. We tend to watch the musical numbers and speed through the dialogue scenes. The characters are cardboard and the stereotypes offensive The problem with Chris Colfer's character is not that he's gay but that he is beyond nelly. I find the sound of the musical numbers bland -- until The Warblers came along. With Darren Criss and his boy singers, suddenly there was an energy the show lacked. Criss isn't a particularly good singer but he has a sense of showbiz pizzazz and hunger for mass love that gives him a star quality the other performers lack.
On stage during his three week stint at J. Pierpont Finch in Rob Ashford's revival of HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WIHOUT REALLY TRYING, Criss is a living demonstration of the mystery of stardom. Criss is barely a singer, dancer (he got seriously winded after his first big number), or actor (he rushed through some of the dialogue as if he were afraid of forgetting it). Frankly I was amazed that a graduate of the University of Michigan's fine musical theater program would show so little basic training. I have seen many kids in Duke student productions who have more skill in all those categories. Everyone on stage with him has more ability than he, but it is because of Criss that the theatre was filled with screaming teenagers and a fair number of gay folk. His Finch has none of the delight in his Machiavellian plots that Robert Morse or Matthew Broderick had in previous productions. What he has is charm, energy and an obvious love of the adulation he is receiving. Will his career last beyond GLEE (whose ratings have been waning of late)? Clearly this is a question he and his handlers are thinking about or he wouldn't be on Broadway during his GLEE hiatus. This is the second time in the past month I have sat through a revival of a musical starring a famous name who isn't up to the task (see my review of the revival of ON A CLEAR DAY YOU CAN SEE FOREVER).
Rob Asford's staging is nothing if not energetic. It puts big dance numbers in wherever possible and barely cares about telling the story. It throws itself at the audience rather than draws the audience in. It's a big cartoon. Perhaps the satire is too dated to be presented with any credibility. Beau Bridges seems to be having a great time as the company president. Everyone else is efficient. The production just doesn't have much personality. Criss does give it that, if little else.
The kids in the audience saw their beloved Darren. Many rushed out before the show was over to get a good position by the stage door with the Darren Criss posters they paid $20 for. For them, the stage door appearance was as important as the show.
HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING. Al Hirschfield Theatre. January 12, 2012.